April 12, 2012, New Orleans – Yesterday, a federal judge declared that requiring individuals convicted under Louisiana’s “Crime Against Nature by Solicitation” (CANS) law to register as sex offenders is unconstitutional. He ordered defendants to cease and desist from placing any individuals convicted of CANS on the registry and to remove the plaintiffs from the registry within 30 days. Defendants have agreed not to appeal the judge’s order.
In a March 30th ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued an opinion concluding that the sex offender registration requirement under CANS violated the Equal Protection Clause. The State, wrote Judge Feldman, could not “credibly serve up even one unique legitimating governmental interest [to] rationally explain” why those convicted under the CANS statute were singled out for sex offender registration, while individuals convicted of identical conduct under Louisiana’s prostitution statute were not required to register.
“We are pleased that the court has granted full relief to our clients and found the registration requirement unconstitutional across the board, creating a path to justice for everyone who is still required to register based on a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation conviction,” said Alexis Agathocleous, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents the plaintiffs. “We hope that the state will move with all deliberate speed to apply this ruling to individuals who are still affected by this unconstitutional and discriminatory requirement.”
Previously, people accused of soliciting sex for a fee in Louisiana could be criminally charged in two ways: either under the prostitution statute or under the solicitation provision of the Crime Against Nature statute. A CANS conviction carried harsher penalties than a prostitution conviction, including the sex offender registration requirement. Police and prosecutors had unfettered discretion in choosing which to charge.
“Judge Feldman’s order is a huge step towards righting an egregious wrong,” said Deon Haywood, executive director of Women With A Vision, a community-based organization in New Orleans that has led advocacy efforts around this issue. “For far too long, CANS has unfairly attached a stigma to individuals whom police and prosecutors decided should be punished more harshly than others. Judge Feldman’s order brings this practice to an end.”
Many of the plaintiffs in the case had been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders. Several had been barred from homeless shelters, one had been physically threatened by a neighbor, and another had been refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities.
“Yesterday’s judgment represents a significant victory for women and LGBTQ people of color who have long labored under the discriminatory policing and prosecution of CANS,” said Andrea J. Ritchie, a police misconduct attorney who is co-counsel on the case. “We sincerely hope that the state will proceed swiftly and efficiently to stop the continuing violations of the rights of people convicted of CANS still on the registry and immediately remove them.”
Individuals who are on the registry solely as a result of CANS convictions prior to August 15, 2011 should send their contact info to [email protected].
Plaintiffs are represented by CCR, police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice, and pro bono counsel Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.